Whether you like it our not, whether you are prepared or not, the Christmas Season is here! This week is known as the busiest shopping week of the year. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent this week as people do their last minute Christmas shopping. Not only is this the busiest shopping week of the year it is probably the most stressful week of the year as well for most people. I want to pause for a moment and speak briefly to all the women here this morning. Ladies, you need to know that it is a scientific fact that shopping is more stressful on men than it is on women. According his study, British psychologist David Lewis found proof that shopping is hazardous to men’s health. Testing volunteers ages 22-79 by sending them out Christmas shopping; he recorded blood pressure rates that “you’d expect to see in a fighter pilot going into combat.” In the same test, only one in four women showed any significant signs of stress from shopping. But seriously what should be the greatest season of the year, which should bring us joy and warm our hearts, instead often brings stress and heartburn, headaches and depression. The stress associated with the Christmas Holidays often makes what should be the most wonderful season of the year a miserable mess. In fact I would not be at the least surprised if a few of you said that you were actually dreading instead of looking forward to these last days leading up to Christmas. The stress that plagues people at this time of the year is rooted in three basic sources; TIME (getting everything done), MONEY (paying for it) and EMOTIONS (conflict with family and past painful memories that resurface).
As I was praying and thinking about what to share today, I got to thinking: how can Christians stand out from the crowd during this busy week filled with shopping and fretting about whether or not our child is going to like the present we got them? I’m of the opinion that followers of Jesus should stand out from the crowd anytime, just in the way they look at and deal with life. But what about Christmas in particular? What can we do to take the focus off the presents, as wonderful as all that is, and put it on the hope we have in Christ? Well, I want to take a look at three ways that I found for us to do that.
Today we’re going to look at a very famous Christmas Scripture passage: Ephesians 5:15-20. Let’s look at it together, shall we? These verses say: “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I’m just sure that when we read that, thoughts of holly and mistletoe, presents, and Christmas albums began flooding your memories, right? I know, me too. That passage just ranks right up there with Joseph and Mary finding no room in the inn, Jesus in the manger, and the shepherds watching their flocks by night, doesn’t it? Makes you just want to break out the nativity set right now! Okay, maybe not, but I think it is applicable to how followers of Jesus can be great examples of what it really means to live for Jesus during the Christmas season. This morning, I want us to look at these three ways to make the most of the opportunities to shine for Jesus in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season. And it’s my hope and prayer that we’ll walk out of here today determined to reflect the hope of Christ as we go through this Christmas season.
Let’s begin by looking at the first way we can make the most of Christmas opportunities which is: live like we know the whole story. There is a very important word in this passage. It’s in verse 15, and the word is “then.” Verse 15 says: “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise” What does the “then” refer to? It refers to what God is saying through Paul in the preceding verses, and in particular, verses 8-10 which say: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.” I would venture to guess that most people in Port Hardy know the background of Christmas, and are willing to give lip-service to Jesus. They often make reference to the “Christmas spirit,” but if hard-pressed, I don’t think the average person could define it, past it meaning that we should be willing to give. But as Christians, we’re supposed to know “the rest of the story.” – the whole story of Christmas which is: we were once in darkness, but because of Jesus and what He came to earth to accomplish, we can now live in light.
And because of that, there should be a difference in how we go about preparing for and celebrating Christmas. Our preparation and celebrations should reflect goodness, righteousness, and truth, which pleases God, rather than the maniacal scrambles for the latest gadgets and the buying into of materialism that really defines how most people view Christmas. Now don’t get me wrong. I like presents as much as anybody and I like giving presents too. My point here is that Christians should reflect more than the presents under the tree. We need to reflect that because of Jesus we now walk in the light of the truth. But if we just go about Christmas like everyone else, then what do we really have to offer? Not much. Just the same ol’ same ol’, with maybe a sprinkling of religion.
Verse 15 says to be careful how we live, not as unwise, but as wise people. Here are two hints to help us with that: First, we need to be ready to tell the whole story. In other words, get beyond the clichés of Christmas and be ready to tell someone WHY Jesus came to earth. We need to tell people that Jesus came so people could have their sins forgiven. We need to tell people that Jesus came so that we could have a rich personal relationship with Him. We need to tell people that Jesus came so that we could have an abundant life filled with things like: joy, love, peace, patience, kindness, etc. That’s the whole story of Christmas. Jesus didn’t just come to be a baby; He came to die for us.
We must not only be ready to tell the whole story but we must be ready to demonstrate the whole story as well. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) What He was saying was: when people are around us, we should reflect Christ. Every time we do good as a Christian. Every time we share with some one less fortunate than ourselves. Every time we lend a helping hand to someone who is struggling or in need. Every time we offer encouragement to someone who discouraged. Or visit the sick. Or pray with someone who is discouraged or in pain. Every time we do some kindness as a Christian, the people around us should see Christ through us.
In other words, every time we get the opportunity we should be pointing at our Saviour and God – either by our words or by our actions – people should see Jesus through us. This is what I’ve been trying to say throughout this whole section. Lip-service doesn’t cut it. All lip-service does is reinforce the stereotype that Christians are as shallow as the rest of the world. And that doesn’t please Jesus at all. On the other hand, living a life that’s consistent with what we say (especially if what we’re saying is accurate!) destroys those stereotypes and pleases the Father. We need to show people that we do more than talk a good talk. We need to show by our consistent life in Christ that we’re looking to bring goodness, righteousness, and truth. Let’s make the most of our Christmas opportunities this year by living like we know the whole story by being ready to tell it and by demonstrating it!
Here’s the second way to make the most of our Christmas opportunities this year: live by the Spirit. Verse 18 says: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” The obvious teaching of this passage is that getting drunk isn’t a good thing and that we should be filled with the Spirit of God. Let’s focus on the last part of this verse. How can we live by the Spirit? I want to suggest two ways. First, we can live by the Spirit by not just living by the “spirit of season.” You’ve probably all heard the saying, “Giving is the spirit of Christmas,” or that it’s the “spirit of the season” that inspires people to give – whether to charities, or to families, or individuals, or whatever. You might be thinking: “What’s wrong with that?” If the Christmas season prompts people to give to those less fortunate, then that’s great, right? Of course. And I’m all for it, if it’s done for the right reasons and the right ways. This is actually very good, but there can be some problems with this.
The first potential problem with this is that sometimes the people doing the giving only give the leftovers. I’m willing to guess that just about all of us have walked past the Salvation Army ringers after buying gifts for everyone and thought, “Hey, I’ve got some spare change after getting my gifts – I’ll throw it in the bucket.” But how many of us are willing to throw money into the bucket BEFORE we buy our gifts. How many are willing to write a SUBSTANTIAL check to them BEFORE we make out the gift list? Maybe we can’t give money, but we could give a half-hour or hour to volunteer somewhere this Christmas helping those less fortunate than us. Sadly, this is reflective of the way people give to God – the leftovers, not the “first fruits” as God tells us to give.
Another problem is that sometimes the giving is just to help deal with guilt over being self-indulgent. Remember the Salvation Army bell-ringers I just mentioned a bit ago? How many of us are willing to admit to ourselves and God that sometimes we put money in that bucket or give to any charity for that matter, not because of an in-depth concern for others, but because we feel a little guilty about spending so much on ourselves? Obviously this isn’t the case with everybody, and maybe not even most. At least that’s my hope!
A third problem is: it’s only active during one part of the year. Have you noticed that? Outside of times when disaster strikes, the “spirit of the season” generally only shows up for about four weeks per year. There’s a reason the Salvation Army only sets up during the Christmas season. People are most generous then! But those who live by the Spirit of God and not by the Spirit of the season give generously (not just the leftovers), give out of compassion (not guilt) and give as part of their lifestyle (not just this time of year).
A second way we can live by the Spirit is by not living by the “the spirit of greed and materialism.” This is where we just look out for Number 1. This is a toughie, because let’s be honest – if given the opportunity, we’d probably all want the best and newest thing to make our lives easier and life more enjoyable, right? The danger comes when we convince ourselves that we deserve this stuff. And then we set out to get it no matter what the cost. Granted, we many want to reward ourselves once in a while for accomplishing something worthwhile, but that’s a far cry from rationalizing purchases that we don’t need and can’t afford. On the other hand, those who live by the Spirit live to bless others before themselves, as seen in Acts 20:35 which says: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Everything we have is a gift from God – we don’t deserve any of it. But because He loves us so much, He allows us to enjoy some of the things in life. So how about sharing some of that with someone who can’t afford that level of enjoyment? I think that would please God very much. Let’s make the most of our Christmas opportunities this year by living by the Spirit of God!
Let’s move on to the final way to make the most of our Christmas opportunities to shine for Jesus which is: live in the “joy of the season” all year long. Verses 19-20 say: “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Can you show me anywhere in this passage where it says we should be characterized as people who walk around with perpetual frowns? I think the term “grumpy Christian” is an oxymoron. Not because I think we should paste a fake smile on our face but what I’m saying here is that Christmas is a joyous time of year. And it should be, particularly for followers of Jesus. If anybody should be enjoying Christmas, it should be Christians. And my challenge here is to take that joy with us all year long. After all, scholars are pretty sure that Jesus wasn’t born in December, so let’s not limit our joy to December. Remember, our passage here in Ephesians isn’t a traditional Christmas passage. It’s a lifestyle passage. And you know, as people see that our joy carries throughout the year, then people see that we’re a little different than most. In a good way, that is! We need to show them that the “joy of the season” is actually part of who we are all the time. Let’s make the most of our Christmas opportunities this year by living in the “joy of the season” all year long!
I want to finish up this morning by taking another look at the second part of verse 18 which says: “be filled with the Spirit.” You know, everything I’ve talked this morning about will be impossible to do for any real length of time or to any real degree of significance without the empowering of the Holy Spirit in our life. Have any of you ever played, “How far?” with your vehicles? You know what I mean – it’s when your gas gauge is on “E” but you want to see just how far you can get before you run out of gas, and hopefully you can actually get to a gas station before you’re totally out. I’ve done that a couple times – unintentionally, of course, and it’s no fun. But think about it. You might have a majorly cool car – a Mustang, for example. It’s got a 306 horse V8, and if you weren’t the Jesus-loving person you are, you’d entertain thoughts of trying to race local law enforcement officials on the highways. But if you have no gas for your majorly cool car -you’ve got a problem. For all your car, you have no fuel to make it go.
That’s kind of the way it is with us as Christians. We have this majorly supped up vehicle called “the Christian life.” But if we don’t have the “fuel” or power to make it go – we’ve got a problem. Of course the fuel or power for the Christian life is the Holy Spirit. We receive the Holy Spirit when we make Jesus our Leader and Forgiver. There comes a time when we need to put the pedal down and let that fuel do its work in us. When we decide to live for Jesus completely, the Holy Spirit gives us the power to really live for Jesus. He gives us the will and the strength to do these things we’ve talked about today: to live like we know the whole story, to live by the Spirit of God and to live in the “joy of the season” all year long. But no one can make us do that. Even God won’t force us to. We need to come to that point on our own.
So let me ask you this: are you tired of trying to putt around town? Are you wanting to be more effective in living for Christ, but find yourself frustrated because you can’t seem to be consistent? Boy, let me tell you I know how you feel. We could all use some help in shining the light of Jesus this Christmas season. Don’t try to go it on your own because you won’t be able to do it. Let God, through His Holy Spirit, help. Ask Him to help you take advantage of all the Christmas opportunities this year to point others to Christ.